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True Confessions of an Island Foodie’s Love Affair with Local Prince Edward Island Foods

Happy Valentine’s from Prince Edward Island!

As many of you know, I am part of the year-long Canadian Food Experience Project.  Each month, food blogger participants are prompted by a prescribed theme upon which to base a posting on their individual blogs.  The February theme is “My Canadian Love Affair”.

What follows is the menu and description of my Valentine’s dinner 2014, using several of my favorite Island food products. In order to meet the timelines of the Project, I have prepared my dinner a week early so it can be included in the Project’s monthly round-up.  My Canadian Love Affair is all about the great local food produced on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province.

When I think of foods that I love, well….there are many!  But, coming from an Island blessed with rich red fertile soil and surrounded by the sea, I would have to say that seafood and potatoes would rank high on my list.  So, for my Valentine’s dinner, I have incorporated both but the potatoes in one of the recipes may be presented in a form that could surprise some of you.  Here’s a taste to whet your appetite ….

The following is the four-course menu for my Valentine’s Dinner which features some of my favorite Island products:

Starter

Island Mussels

(steamed in apple cider and herbs and dipped in Island-churned butter)

Soup

Jeff McCourt’s PEI Seafood Chowder

(a rich, smooth, and creamy chowder filled

with a variety of PEI seafood and Island potatoes)

Main

Lobster Newburg served in a patty shell accompanied by a crisp green salad

(lobster and mushrooms in a rich sherry and cheese sauce)

Dessert

Chocolate Potato Cake

Wine Pairing:  Rossignol’s Little Sands White Wine (PEI)

PEI Mussels
PEI Mussels

It would be hard to surpass PEI mussels.  They are shipped all over the globe and are world renowned.  There are many ways to prepare mussels and there are many different liquids in which they can be steamed, each of which will give a slightly different flavor to the mussels.  The important thing about steaming mussels is to use very little liquid. Using too much liquid will diminish the flavor of the mussels. It is the steam from the liquid that forces the mussel shells open, not the amount of liquid itself.  These delicacies take very little time to cook – they are cooked when the shells open, a process that generally takes about 5-7 minutes.  Be sure to discard any shells that have not opened during the steaming process.

Today, I have steamed the mussels in a small amount of apple cider enhanced by a sprinkle each of lemon thyme, parsley, and basil all dried from our garden last summer.  How much liquid is needed is based, of course, on how many mussels are being steamed.  Because I was only steaming about 15-20 mussels for these two appetizers, I only used about 2 tbsp of apple cider.

While mussels are used in various recipes, including mussel chowder, the most common way to eat mussels on the Island is dipped in melted butter (oh-là-là!).  Mussels are a common food found at many get-togethers because they are quick and easy to prepare and are so very tasty.

For the second course, I couldn’t bypass an all-time favorite of mine – a good seafood chowder.

Seafood Chowder
Seafood Chowder

This recipe comes courtesy of the Culinary Boot Camps at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.  This award-winning recipe was developed by Chef Jeff McCourt who was the chef instructor at the one-day “Island Flavors” Boot Camp that I attended a couple of years ago.  This chowder was one of the dishes that participants made at the Boot Camp.  The Culinary Institute kindly gave me permission to share the seafood chowder recipe as part of the story I was writing on the Boot Camps.  If you find yourself on PEI during the summer/fall seasons when the Culinary Boot Camps are operating, this is a fantastic way to learn about cooking with local Island products and flavors.  Click here to see my story on the Boot Camps and to get the PEI Seafood Chowder recipe.

I have made many seafood chowder recipes but have not found any that I liked better than this one.  It is filled with a great variety of delectable Island seafood along with PEI potatoes and has a rich, tasty chowder base.  Seafood chowder is a great way to sample several different kinds of local seafood all in one dish. This recipe suggests a variety of seafood that includes lobster, oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, and crab.  On PEI, we would typically serve the seafood chowder with crusty rolls, biscuits, or baguette slices.

For my main course, I simply had to choose lobster!  Lobster is still the seafood king on the Island and Islanders love their lobster.

Lobster
Lobster

The most typical way Islanders enjoy their lobster is straight out of the shell, dipped in melted butter, and served with potato salad, coleslaw, and rolls.  A jellied salad and slices of tomato and cucumber are also often  included.

There are numerous enterprises around the Island that, seasonally, serve lobster suppers that generally consist of mussels, seafood chowder, lobster in the shell, salads, rolls, and a selection of pies and other desserts.  There are three main lobster supper venues on PEI.  Saint Anne’s Church Lobster Suppers in Hope River, not far from Cavendish, PEI, began in 1963 when a priest came up with the idea to have lobster suppers as a means to raise money to pay off the $35,000 mortgage on the church.  New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, in operation since 1958, and Fishermen’s Wharf Restaurant in North Rustico also serve full lobster suppers as well.  A traditional lobster supper at one of these establishments is a must-stop for lobster lovers visiting PEI.  In addition, most restaurants on the Island will feature lobster in one form or another on their menus.  Last summer, I crisscrossed the Island in search of the best lobster roll on PEI since these are a common menu item for many restaurants.  Click here to read about which one was my favorite.

The popularity of lobster is somewhat ironic.  Today, it is a high-priced food, often considered by many a luxury and reserved for special occasions.  However, on PEI, that was not always the case.  I remember speaking with an Island woman who grew up about 65 years ago in an Island fishing community where her father was a lobster fisherman.  She remembers being embarrassed opening her lunch at school and revealing a lobster sandwich since lobster was associated with poor people!  My, how times have changed!

As a child, I had no interest in eating lobster.  In fact, when my family was having a “feed of lobster” at home, my mother always roasted me a chicken!  They would coax me to try the lobster but it just didn’t appeal to me.  Finally, as a young adult, I gave in and tried a bite of lobster….well, let’s just say that’s when my love affair with lobster began and I’ve been making up for all the years I didn’t eat it!

So, it would be a logical choice that I would choose lobster as the main course for a special Valentine’s dinner.  I have opted to go with a traditional Lobster Newburg served in light and airy patty shells accompanied by a crisp green salad.

Lobster Newburg
Lobster Newburg

Lobster is fished in PEI from spring through to fall so we have no winter lobster fishing season on the Island.  Many of us freeze lobster meat when it is in season to enjoy in recipes, like Lobster Newburg, throughout the remainder of the year.  My recipe for Lobster Newburg can be made with either fresh or frozen lobster meat.

Lobster Newburg
Lobster Newburg

Lobster Newburg, although it is often considered an elaborate menu item, is really quite easy to prepare.  It’s also a good way to stretch lobster to increase the number of servings you can get from the meat of a lobster.  What makes Lobster Newburg so tasty and silky in texture is the sauce.  This is a rich, creamy cheese and sherry sauce so large portion sizes are not necessary.  I traditionally serve Lobster Newburg in patty shells.  However, it can also be presented over toast points or served over a bed of steamed rice.  Or, it may be served in small individual casserole dishes with a side of steamed asparagus spears.  The recipe for my Lobster Newburg follows at the end of this posting.

Much as Islanders have an enduring love affair with food that comes from the sea that surrounds us, we also have a special fondness for our famous PEI potatoes.  For the past two years, I have followed a couple of potato farmers from the planting of the crop to the harvesting process.  To read these stories and get a couple of my favorite potato recipes, here are the two links to the postings for Smith Farms of Newton, PEI and Eric C. Robinson Inc., of Albany, PEI.

I have chosen to serve a Chocolate Potato Cake as a finale to my Valentine’s dinner.  Yes, potatoes in a cake!  It’s amazing how many different ways potatoes can be served.  Earlier this week, I posted my recipe for Chocolate Potato Cake on my food blog.

To make this feast truly a PEI dinner, I chose a white wine from PEI’s Rossignol Winery in Little Sands, PEI.  The Island has three wineries – the other two are Newman Estate Winery in Gladstone and Matos Winery in St. Catherine’s, PEI.  Each makes fine wine that is a great accompaniment to any meal.

Rossignol's Little Sands White Wine
Rossignol’s Little Sands White Wine

To compliment the tablesetting, I chose locally-grown tulips from Vanco Farms’ greenhouses in Mount Albion, PEI.  Aren’t they beautiful flowers!

Vanco Tulips
Vanco Tulips

So, this is my local flavors Valentine’s dinner for 2014, featuring some of my favorite and most loved local PEI foods and wine.  I hope you enjoy them, too!

Lobster Newburg

Ingredients:

4-5 oz cooked lobster (either fresh or frozen)

1 tbsp butter

3 oz mushrooms, sliced

1 tbsp butter

1½ tbsp flour

⅛ tsp paprika

pinch nutmeg

¾ cup whole milk or half-and-half

2 tbsp grated cheddar cheese

1 egg yolk, slightly beaten

½ tbsp sherry

1½ tsp brandy

1 tsp liquid chicken bouillon

salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Melt first amount of butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Add and sauté mushrooms for approximately 2 minutes.  Set aside.

In separate saucepan, melt remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add flour, paprika, and nutmeg.  Whisk in the milk until mixture is smooth.  Add cheese.  Stir mixture constantly until slightly thickened.

Add approximately 2 tbsp of the hot sauce to the egg yolk to temper the egg so it won’t curdle when added to the hot sauce.  Add the tempered egg to the sauce in the pan.

Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, then add the lobster meat and mushrooms.

Add the sherry and brandy and cook and stir slowly for 1-2 minutes to heat the lobster and mushrooms.  Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Serve immediately in baked patty shells or over toast points or steamed rice.

Yield:  2-3 servings

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Stepping Outside the Breadbox: Meet Creative Chef Ilona Daniel

 

Chef Ilona Daniel
Chef Ilona Daniel

The chef profession is changing and evolving, probably faster than ever before in history.  No longer are chefs hidden away in their kitchens.  Today, many are taking the profession and their career to unheard-of heights.  TV cooking shows, culinary events like PEI’s Fall Flavors, the popularity of cookbooks written by accomplished chefs, and chefs who engage and interact with fans via social media have all contributed to giving many chefs celebrity status.  One of those is Chef Ilona Daniel.  If you are a foodie on Prince Edward Island, chances are that you are familiar with Chef Ilona.  This is a chef who has had a multi-faceted career to date and is not afraid to think (and step) outside the box – in fact, I’d go so far as to say Chef Ilona doesn’t even know there is a box!

Following her educational experience at McMaster University, Ilona thought she was heading to law school when suddenly her life took a turn in another direction.  If it hadn’t been for her taking the leap of faith to follow her passion and calling, chances are Ilona might not have become a chef.

Ilona grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, and learned the pleasure of fine cooking by standing at the kitchen counter by the stove as she watched her mom prepare meals.  Cooking was an integral part of her entire being in her formative years and she attributes her mom as having a big influence on her love of cooking.

A chef now for 12 years, Ilona’s first job as a teenager was working in a burger joint at the age of 16.  Even then, whether she knew it or not, her life’s path was already being charted in the food industry.  After making the decision that law school was not her destiny, Ilona studied at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute in Niagara, Ontario.  After completing her studies in Niagara, she was awarded a full scholarship for the Applied Degree in Culinary Operations at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI, and was in the first graduating class from the two-year program.  Like many others who have found their way to PEI, Ilona fell in love with the Island and decided to make it her home.

1-photo
Chef Ilona Meticulous at Work

Since graduating from culinary school, Chef Ilona has had an incredibly varied career.  She has been the Head Chef at the Stanhope Beach Resort, Interim Chef at Sims and Off Broadway Restaurants, Founding Chef at the Brickhouse, Executive Chef to the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI at Fanningbank, Executive Chef of Holland College’s Culinary Boot Camps, Resident Food Scene Writer for G Magazine, and Culinary Instructor at the PC Cooking School at the local Superstore.  And, that’s not all.  This fall, she was the Culinary Expert for the PEI2014 Roadshow that travelled across Canada to promote the planned events in PEI in 2014 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that led to the creation of Canada.  Perhaps you may have seen Chef Ilona on one of several morning TV shows.  Most recently, Chef Ilona has started her own Catering and Consulting Business — Tribe Fresh Cookery.  This is a gal who likes to be busy!

Shucking lobsters live on Global BC Morning Show
Shucking lobsters live on Global BC Morning Show

Out of this impressive resume, I asked Chef Ilona which job was the most interesting.  Her response was starting her own business because she is building it from the ground up.  Her most challenging job was working at the Stanhope Beach Resort because it was a seasonal operation so it meant every year was starting all over again with new staff to be trained quickly.  The job that surprised her the most was being Executive Chef to PEI’s Lieutenant-Governor.  In this role, she prepared food for many events and functions that included a number of award ceremonies to honour Islanders who were making a difference to their communities.  This allowed her to see what a generous and giving community PEI really is.  While in this role, Ilona became the first chef at Fanningbank to use social media to tell the story of what food was being prepared for their Honours and for events. Chef Ilona says her most fulfilling job has been her role as Executive Chef of the Culinary Boot Camps.  Chef Ilona particularly enjoys the Kids Camps where they are shown how to grow vegetables and make their own food.  It’s an opportunity to influence the next generation to eat well.

Teaching at the Kids Culinary Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI
Teaching at the Kids Culinary Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI

Chef Ilona’s philosophy in cooking is to “cook with love and don’t be afraid to be different”.  She says “there are Chefs whose food can be executed but not necessarily made with passion”.  She does not follow trends but rather follows her heart and takes the road less traveled.  Her belief is that food should be natural and real.  As she says, “good food inspires conversation and doesn’t have to be complicated; use the best local ingredients executed with flawless technique and care about what you are doing”.

I asked Chef Ilona what inspires the recipes and menus she creates.  First, she says she needs to know who her audience is. She makes a point of respecting any dietary concerns they may have and is excited to be creative to cook interesting and tasty foods that meet their dietary requirements.

Gluten-free Boston Cream Pies Prepared for a Function at Fanningbank, home of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI
Gluten-free Boston Cream Pies Prepared for a Function at Fanningbank, home of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI

Second, she likes to play on nostalgia, conjuring up memories like the tantalizing scent of apple pie, for example, that will lead to good conversation which goes hand-in-hand with dining.  Third, she respects the cultural roots of the region and is creative when cooking with the foods local to the region.

Telling the Truth About Male and Female Lobsters
Telling the Truth About Male and Female Lobsters

With so many prepared, frozen, and ready-to-go meals on the market today, I asked Chef Ilona why there seems to have been a resurgence in home cooking in the past few years.  She believes it is attributable to a number of health issues, including highly publicized food-born illnesses that were caused by contaminated food.  This has caused consumers to be more concerned about buying modified foods that are full of preservatives and, instead, they are becoming more health-conscious and so are turning to making their own meals.

What’s next for Chef Ilona?  She tells me she is working on a cookbook and exploring the possibility of filming some TV cooking shows.  In the short-term, she is busy getting her Catering and Consulting business up and running.  Ever thinking outside the box, Chef Ilona is offering what she calls “Kitchen Party Cooking Classes”.  This is where she will come to your home and teach you and a small group of friends how to interactively cook a particular dish – e.g., sushi, gourmet pizza, pies, etc.  This is way to engage foodies and get them participating in food preparation, all in the comfort of their own home.  What a great idea for a girls night out, a bachelorette party, or just a get-together for no other reason other than good conversation and food.  If you are interested in having Chef Ilona cater to your event or customize a Kitchen Party Cooking Class, contact her at 902-316-0993 or by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com

Chef Ilona Teaching
Chef Ilona Teaching

Before we ended our chat, I asked Chef Ilona to answer some short snapper questions:

1.  What is the one kitchen tool/gadget you can’t live without?

Can’t pick just one – have the “fast five” – Chef’s knife, small serrated paring knife, a Swiss peeler, a microplane, and a good quality cutting board.

2.  What is your all time favorite food?

Pizza – any kind!

3.  What is the one non-culinary factoid about Chef Ilona that people might not know about?

I’m a hippie at heart – I like nature and will actually, “stop and smell the roses.”

4.  What do you do when you are not cooking?

I like reading, nature hikes, listening to music, and going to concerts.

5.  What is your favorite recipe featuring an Island product?  Care to share it?

Swedish Potato Casserole. It uses PEI potatoes and PEI-produced Cows Creamery cheese.  (Recipe follows)

 

Swedish Potato Casserole

3 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp mace (or nutmeg)
6 eggs, beaten
3 cups Whipping Cream
½ cup flour
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 lb grated Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 cups Cows Aged Cheddar, grated

As you preheat your oven to 375 (use convection baking if you have that option), preheat your 4-6 quart baking dish with 4-6 tbsp butter in the oven.

Whisk thoroughly, the first 6 ingredients together(approximately 3 minutes).  Stir in the potatoes. Pour mixture into the hot casserole dish.  QUICKLY top with cheese, and place back into oven immediately.

Bake for 45 minutes.

 

Waiting for Lobsters to Cook in the Sandpit
Waiting for Lobsters to Cook in the Sandpit

Keep an eye on this rising celebrity chef as she progresses in her career.  Chef Ilona is very creative, brimming with ideas and personality, and she’s going places in her chosen career!

 

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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A PEI Lobster Party on the Beach at West Point!

What do you get when you put together a PEI beach, a large tent on that beach, lots of lobster, chowder, salads, and delectable lobster savouries, 200 people, a team of talented chefs, and great PEI musicians?  Why, you get a PEI Lobster Party on the Beach, of course!

This past Sunday (September 8, 2013), I attended this signature Fall Flavors event in West Point, PEI, where it was hosted by Celebrity Chef Corbin Tomaszeski of Food Network (FN) fame.

Chef Corbin serving up the best lobster chowder ever!
Chef Corbin serving up the best lobster chowder ever!

You may recognize Chef Corbin as the co-host of FN’s Dinner Party Wars and as one of the chef-hosts on FN’s Restaurant Takeover.  This was the second time that Chef Corbin was the celebrity chef at the PEI Lobster Party on the Beach.  In addition to assisting with event logistics, Chef Corbin was very involved with the menu planning and in leading the lobster team relay event which turned out to be a fun activity….at least for the spectators!

September has become known as “Fall Flavors” month on the Island and PEI is becoming known as a culinary tourism destination, particularly with all the fabulous Fall Flavors events.

Lobster season is still open in parts of the province and the produce from our land has matured and is ready for harvesting.  What better time and way to celebrate the great foods of the Island than to have a series of culinary events and food festivals.

Now in its third year, the Lobster on the Beach Party is held right on the beach at West Point, near O’Leary, in the Western part of the province.  Fall Flavors organizers aim to locate the signature events in communities across the Island so that there is equitable distribution to the extent possible. The lobster fishing season is currently in full swing in the West Point area of PEI and the event was held just up the beach from an active wharf. When asked where the idea for a lobster party on the beach came from, Ian MacPherson, Executive Director of the PEI Fishermen’s Association Ltd., says Tourism PEI has indicated that “a lobster dinner on the beach is one of the most requested activities that tourists request when coming to PEI”.

On Sunday, around mid-day, the skies opened and literally drenched the Island with rain.  Winds were blowing at a good clip – 50-60kpm.  As I was leaving on my 1½ hour drive to West Point, the weather conditions were less than ideal (an understatement) for a beach party.  However, the event was going ahead rain or shine so off I went donned in my rain suit and duckies.  I arrived in West Point around 4:00pm just as the event was getting underway.  By this time, the rain had eased off to a steady, more gentle rain.

A short jaunt through a “muddy” walking path brought me to the beach where I could see the top of a huge white tent, a mobile kitchen, and another trailer and truck.

Down on to the beach, I could see chefs, barefoot, working around some portable cookers and a couple of tarp-covered cooking pits in the sand.  The first person I met was Chef Corbin who was busy steaming mussels in white wine.  Oh, yes, our Island mussels are some good!

So, to set the stage – the large tent actually was right on the beach, anchored in the sand, just a very few meters from the water.

 

There was no nearby building, no running water right on site, and no electricity.  Can you imagine having 200 people over for dinner under those conditions?  The logistics of producing a sold-out event for 200 people in such a location are many (and these were all in addition to contending with strong winds and heavy, pelting rain all day).  Here are some of them:

-                      the tent was no ordinary tent – it was a special hexagon-shaped tent that is specifically designed for use and anchoring in the sand

-                      the event was held in an environmentally-sensitive area so many permits were required

-                      one mobile kitchen was brought on to the site right beside the beach

-                      water for the mobile kitchen had to be sourced and transported from the nearby Cedar Dunes Provincial Park

-                      several generators were in place to operate the mobile kitchen and the sound system

-                      over 200 lobsters were cooked in the sandpit

-                      an additional 50 pounds of lobster meat was used in a multitude of side dishes including lobster chowder, lobster bacon fritters, lobster potato salad, etc.

-                      the Culinary Institute of Canada was the primary culinary provider for the event providing 12 chefs and 13 serving staff

-                      several directors (all fishers) from the PEI Fishermen’s Association were on hand to show (if required) people how to crack and eat their lobster and to answer any questions

-                 a nurse was onsite for any potential medical emergencies

Carrying out an event like this means attention to detail and careful meticulous planning has to happen – it’s not like an event in a large banquet hall or hotel where the chefs and service staff have everything they need at their fingertips.  For this, everything (food, water, equipment, generators, etc.) has to be transported to the beach.

One of the most fascinating activities proved to be the cooking of the lobster and corn in a sandpit on the beach.  From the number of times I heard him explain it, I am sure Chef Andrew Nicholson from the Culinary Institute of Canada could recite, in his sleep, the process he used for cooking the lobster as well as the corn in the husks!

Preparing the Cooking Pit in the Sand for the Lobster and Corn
Preparing the Cooking Pit in the Sand for the Lobster and Corn

Two pits, each about 5-6” deep, were dug in the sand and lined with river rock.  Firewood was added and a fire in the pit burned for 4-5 hours until it burned itself out.  This heated the rocks which were then used as the heat source to cook the lobster and corn.  A layer of seaweed was added to the top of the rocks and charred wood remains.  A layer of lobsters was laid out in the pit followed by a layer of corn.  Several eggs were placed on top of the corn.  Yes, the eggs were used to determine when the lobster was cooked!  This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “egg timer”.  As Chef Andrew says, “the eggs never lie”!  Using this method, the chef can periodically remove an egg from just under the tarp without disturbing the lobster cooking below. Once an egg tests hard-cooked, the lobster is done.

Testing the Egg to Determine if the Lobster is Cooked -- Not Quite Yet But Getting There!
Testing the Egg to Determine if the Lobster is Cooked — Not Quite Yet But Getting There!

The entire pit was covered with a tarp and sand piled over the tarp edges to seal in all the heat and make it quite sauna-like inside for the lobster and corn to slowly cook in the steam.

It takes about 45-60 minutes for the lobster to cook under ideal conditions.

Dinner's ready!
Dinner’s ready!

Says Chef Andrew, the products cooked this way have some “wicked good flavour” happening.  This was, arguably, the best tasting lobster I have ever had!

Chef Andrew Nicholson removes the cooked lobster and corn from the cooking pit
Chef Andrew Nicholson removes the cooked lobster and corn from the cooking pit

Chef Andrew is right – there are subtle hints of the smoked firewood and the taste of the sea from the seaweed bed but not so strong that it detracts from the pure lobster flavour.

No PEI party would be complete without local music.  Harpist Jill Harris provided dinner music.

And, Island fiddler and fisherman JJ Chiasson closed out the last hour of the event.

Anyone wanting to experience Island hospitality, fabulous PEI lobster prepared in many different ways, and a lobster party on the beach with great music, then this was the event to attend.  The rain stopped in time for the party and, despite the soggy sand and muddy trek through the woods to the beach, no one seemed to mind the damp, dreary day.  Many (including the chefs) who weren’t sporting “high fashion” duckies or rubber boots, simply got into the party mood by abandoning their footwear and going barefoot.  After all, this was a party right on the beach!

Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew even ventured into the water to set the lobster trap for the lobster relay.  This must fall under the category of “other related duties”, chefs!

Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew preparing for the lobster relay
Chef Corbin and Chef Andrew preparing for the lobster relay

When asked what this event means to the lobster industry on PEI, Ian MacPherson says, “ It is a great opportunity for people to connect with the fishers and understand the hard work and skill it takes to catch lobster.  Financial returns have been very low to the harvesters over the past few years so it is a good way for people to understand how the supply chain works as consumer costs still tend to be high.  We get a lot of questions on sustainability and conservation so, again, this is a great way to respond to these questions.  As you know , most people like to know where their food comes from and who supplies it.  Being directly involved with promotion is new for the harvesters but most agree it is an area we need to be more involved in.”

Tickets for this event were $75. per person.  Those traveling from the direction of Charlottetown and Summerside could board a bus for a nominal fee in lieu of driving themselves to West Point.  Individuals needing a drive between the parking area and the beach could hop onboard one of the golf carts.  Organizers thought of everything!

Whether you are an Islander, or planning a trip to PEI in September, I highly recommend you check the Fall Flavors website for event and ticket information to any of a number of great culinary events.  Be sure to book your tickets early as the signature events, such as the popular Lobster on the Beach Party, sell out – that’s a testament to their popularity and quality.

Photo Gallery of the Sights of Lobster Party on the Beach at West Point, PEI:

Hors d’oeuvres, lobster chowder, lobster in the shell and fresh PEI peaches and cream corn steamed in the husk.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Even lobster potato salad was on the menu!

PEI Oysters are always a hit with foodies!

These lobster vol-en-vent were tasty little savouries!

Desserts, anyone?

Dinner with a water view:

Chef Corbin at work.

Dining and Guest Etiquette

It’s the beginning of the season of wedding receptions, summer dinner events, get-togethers, and banquets.  I thought this might be a good time to post an article on dining and guest etiquette.  Many of us, at one time or another, have probably found ourselves at a dinner event, sat down to a somewhat crowded table with heavily laden place settings that displayed more cutlery and glassware than imaginable and wondered, hmmm, which bread plate was ours – the one on the left or on the right of the place setting.  Or, perhaps you have wondered what to do if your neighbour to the left has started to use your bread and butter plate thinking it was his or hers.  Maybe you have deliberated over which utensil to use.  Perhaps you have wondered if it is proper to tilt or pick up a soup bowl to get the last drop of that yummy soup.  For answers to these and other guest and dining etiquette questions, I contacted Tina Lesyk, Banquet and Catering Coordinator at The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.  I first introduced you to Tina in May 2012 when I posted a feature on how to properly set a table.

The purpose of learning and practicing proper table manners is to feel comfortable at any table, not insult your host or hostess and, in the case of business functions, it is essential for professional success.  Let’s face it, no one wants to embarrass him or herself in these social situations.  Follow the basic guidelines outlined below and you’ll be well on your way to being a model dinner guest in any setting, whether that be at a dinner in a private home, in a restaurant, or at a formal or state dinner.  For a description and explanation of the elements of place settings, please see my earlier posting “Let’s Set the Table”.

First, let’s begin with some general tips on dining and guest etiquette.

General Dining Etiquette

 -          The old rule still holds true – elbows off the table when food is present.

-          You should sit in the chair so that your back does not actually touch the back of the chair – this forces you to sit up straight.

-          Everyone, leave the tech gadgets away from the table.  Out of respect for the host/hostess and other guests, put cell phones on vibrate.  If you absolutely must take a call during dinner, never answer the phone at the table in the presence of the host/hostess and other guests.  Excuse yourself and move to another room to discretely take the call.  The same applies to making a telephone call.

-          Never use a toothpick while at the table.  Picking food out of your teeth in front of fellow guests and the host or hostess is not appropriate conduct.

-          If you drop a piece of cutlery on the floor, leave it there; do not retrieve it.  If you are in a restaurant, signal to the waiter to bring you a replacement.  If at a private event at someone’s house, ask your host/hostess for a replacement.

-          If you find you have taken a bite of food that has a piece of gristle or small bone in it, do not make a big scene or draw attention about it.  As discretely as possible, remove the item with your fork (the utensil it went into the mouth with) and set it to the side of your plate.

-          If you have a severe food allergy, advise your host/hostess in advance of the function.

-          If you are served a food that you do not like and cannot eat, make no mention of it; rather, simply go through the motions of moving the food around the plate.

-          Never push the plate away from you when you have finished eating and do not stack up plates, utensils, and so forth, from your place setting – you may think you are helping but this gets in the way of the servers’ techniques for clearing tables.

-          Applying lipstick, combing hair, and so forth are considered grooming activities, inappropriate for the dining table.

Napkins

The purpose of the napkin is to protect clothing by acting as a shield or guard for spills and, if necessary, to dab the fingers and mouth, and remove traces of food particles from the outside of the mouth.

-          Remove the napkin from the place setting and place it on your lap immediately upon being seated at the table.

-          For a normal-sized napkin, completely unfold the napkin and place it on your lap.  It is not considered appropriate (and there is no need) to “shake” a napkin out of its fold.  Simply, and very discretely, unfold the napkin.

-          If the napkin is exceptionally large, fold it in half and, with the fold of the napkin facing you, place it on your lap.

-          The napkin always goes on the lap and is never tucked into the collar and used as a bib.

-          The napkin remains on your lap during the entire meal.  If you need to temporarily leave the table during the meal, loosely bunch up the napkin and place it to the left of your plate.  When you return to the table, re-place the napkin on your lap.  At one time, the general rule was to place the napkin on the seat of your chair during a temporary absence from the table.  However, there are a couple of issues with this that suggest an alternative location for the napkin may be preferable.  First, the napkin may have food particles on it that will stain an upholstered chair and may also stain your clothing or leave crumbs on the chair when you return to the seat.  Second, given the sole use of a napkin is to dab the mouth, many do not want to use that napkin for that purpose after it has laid on the seat of a chair that is used for, uh, sitting on the derrière.  One never knows how clean those chairs are!  Now, when bunching up the napkin that has stains or food particles on it, you will want to loosely fold the napkin in such a way that the stains/food particles are not visible when you temporarily leave the napkin on the table during your absence; leave the napkin, clean side up.  You will also want to make sure your napkin does not touch the elements of the place settings of your neighbors to the left and to the right.

-          A napkin is not a tissue or handkerchief so avoid using it to blow your nose (Note – you should excuse yourself from the table before blowing your nose).

-          At the end of the meal, loosely bunch up the napkin and place it to the left side of your place setting, not on the dirty plate.  A paper napkin, however, could be left on the [dirty] plate since the napkin will be discarded anyway.

Cutlery

-          If the cutlery is already on the table, begin using the utensils placed farthest away from the plate (assuming there is more than one fork and knife at the place setting).  If there is no cutlery at the place setting when you sit down at the table, this means the host/hostess will bring the necessary utensils with each course of the meal.

-          Never gesture or point with a piece of cutlery.

Proper Ways to Hold Cutlery While Eating

There are two main styles – American and European.

American

Normally, with this style, you hold the fork in the hand you write with.  For demonstration purposes, I will describe the procedure for someone who is right-handed.

Hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in the right.

Proper Way to Hold Utensils
Proper Way to Hold Utensils

With fork tines facing down, gently spear the food with the fork to hold it in place as you cut the food. Once a bite-sized piece has been cut, rest the knife diagonally across the upper right edge of the plate.  Switch the fork to your right hand and, with tines facing up, pick up the food and transfer it to the mouth.

If there is a pause in eating a course during the meal (e.g., to take a sip of water or briefly leave the table), there is a way to signal to the wait staff that you have not yet finished eating.  Lay the fork, tines facing up, as shown in the photo below and place the knife, diagonally on the upper right-hand corner of the plate.  Note that, once the knife has been picked up from the table, it should not touch the table again during the meal.

American Style for Cutlery Position During Brief Pause in Eating
American Style for Cutlery Position During Brief Pause in Eating

At the conclusion of the course, place the knife and fork together (fork tines up), parallel to each other at about the 4:30 clock position on the plate to signal to the wait staff that you have finished eating.

Placement of Cutlery at Conclusion of Course
Placement of Cutlery at Conclusion of Course

European

With this style, the fork remains in the left hand and the knife in the right for the entire meal.  Food that needs to be cut is speared gently with the fork and cut with the knife held in the right hand.  The knife is used to push food onto the back of the fork.  The food is then transferred to the mouth with the fork, tines facing down, held in the left hand.

If there is a significant pause during the course, the fork and knife are placed on the plate as shown in the photo below.

European Style for Placement of Cutlery During Brief Pause in Eating or Short Absence from the Table
European Style for Placement of Cutlery During Brief Pause in Eating or Short Absence from the Table

At the conclusion of the course, place the knife and fork together (fork tines facing down) at about the 4:30 clock position on the plate to signal to the wait staff that you have finished eating.  This would be the same as the American style with the only difference being that the fork tines would face downward toward the plate.

Which is mine?

-          Follow this easy trick for remembering which bread and butter plate and which glass is yours:  With your left hand, touch the tip of your first finger to your thumb.  You will see it makes a lowercase “b” shape; “b” stands for “bread” – it goes on the left of the place setting, aligning with your left hand.  Now, do the same thing with the first finger and thumb of your right hand.  This makes a lowercase “d” shape.  The “d” stands for “drink” and drinks go the right of the place setting, aligning with your right hand.

-         If you find your neighbour has already starting using your bread and butter plate, discretely ask your host/hostess (if at a private dinner party) or your server at an event to bring you another.

Bread and Rolls

 -          Break bread and rolls with your fingers (as opposed to cutting with a knife).  The knife is provided for buttering the bread or roll, not cutting it.

-          If the bread or roll is served cold, take the butter pod and place it on to the bread and butter plate provided and butter each piece/bite of the broken bread or roll at a time as you eat each bite.

-          If the bread or roll arrives warm at the table, break it apart and butter each broken section all at once to let the butter melt.

 Soup

-          The appropriate way to consume soup is to scoop it away from you as you will be less likely to spill or splash it on yourself.

-          Do not place the entire bowl of the soup spoon in the mouth.  Rather, sip the soup from the spoon.

-          It goes without saying that there should be no ‘slurping’ noise during the soup-eating process!

-          If the soup is too hot to comfortably consume, wait for it to cool.  It is never considered proper etiquette to blow on the soup or stir it vigorously to cool it.

-          It is inappropriate to dip bread in the soup as a way to gather up the soup – this is what a soup spoon is for.

-          It is acceptable to tip the bowl ever so slightly away from you to scoop up the last bit of soup.

Acceptable to Slightly Tip the Soup Bowl up and away from you to Scoop up Remaining Soup
Acceptable to Slightly Tip the Soup Bowl up and away from you to Scoop up Remaining Soup

-          It is not appropriate to lift the bowl up and hold it close to the mouth as you consume the soup.

-          If the soup bowl has been served on a server plate, place the spoon on the server plate once you have finished the soup.  If there is no server plate provided, leave the spoon in the bowl.

Wine

 -          If you are not a wine drinker, or do not want any wine with the meal, there are two ways to handle the situation when wine is being served:  1) discretely place your hand on top of the wine glass as the server approaches you with the wine.  This will signal to the server that you do not wish to partake; or 2) simply let the server pour the wine and just do not drink it.  The key is always discretion – you don’t want to make an issue of anything or draw attention to yourself.

-          The proper way to hold a wine glass is by the stem so that your hand does not warm the wine or that fingerprints get left on the goblet itself, making it look smudgy.  Holding the glass by the stem is also considered to give you better control when moving the wine in the glass and tasting it.

Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass
Proper Way to Hold a Wine Glass

-          Monitor your consumption – if several wines are being served throughout the meal, it is completely acceptable etiquette not to finish every glass.  Intoxication does not make a good dinner guest.

Starting to Eat

 -          Wait for everyone at the table to be served before starting to eat.  This applies to each course of the meal.  If you are at a private dinner, it is proper etiquette to wait until the host/hostess picks up his or her fork before starting to eat unless, of course, the host/hostess tells you to start while he or she is still continuing with the dinner preparations and serving other guests.

-          If food bowls, platters, etc., are being passed around the table for guests to serve themselves and one is starting with you (i.e., you pick up the bowl or platter directly in front of your place setting), offer it first to the person on your left while holding it for him/her to serve him/herself.  Then serve yourself and pass the item to the person on your right.  Always send everything to the right around the table and never directly pass items to guests across the table.

-          Never intercept food being passed.  For example, if someone asks for the basket of rolls to be passed, do not sneak a roll from the basket as it is going by you.  Rather, after the requester has been served, ask for the item to be passed back to you.

Salt and Pepper Shakers

-          Salt and pepper shakers should always travel in a set together even if someone ask for just the salt or pepper to be passed to him or her.  This is because the next person looking for them will find them together, not orphaned here and there somewhere on the table and end up having two people passing them from different directions along to the requester.  When someone ask you to pass him or her the salt and pepper, set them down on the table in front of the requester.  This is the preferred method as there is less chance of dropping the items or upsetting them as could happen if they were transferred hand to hand.

-          It is considered proper etiquette to always taste the food before seasoning it or you may insult the chef/host/hostess who has prepared the food – theory being that the chef has already properly seasoned the dish before serving it.

Special Food Items

Ever wonder what foods must be eaten with a fork and knife and which ones are acceptable to be eaten with the fingers?  Here are some of the more common foods which are acceptable to be eaten with the fingers:

Asparagus (unless covered in a sauce)

Crispy bacon (ever chase a piece of crispy bacon with a fork around the plate as you try to capture it or cut it with a knife and the bacon lands on your neighbour’s plate?)

Oysters (probably the only, or one of very few, foods that can be acceptably eaten with a ‘slurping’ sound!)

Corn on the Cob

Pizza

Crostini

Artichokes

Chicken Wings

Ribs

Shrimp

Cookie served with a dessert (the cookie is considered a finger food)

Dinner Conversation

 -          Stay with topics that are neutral and of general interest, non-conflictual in nature – the old advice about avoiding discussions on politics and religion still holds true.  The last thing you want to do is to instigate, or become engaged in, a heated discussion that leaves everyone around the table uncomfortable or at odds with each other.

-          Do not discuss food allergies, health issues, or bad experiences with food.  The fact that you may be lactose intolerant, have irritable bowel syndrome, or once got violently sick from eating shellfish, or have had food poisoning, does not make these subjects suitable table topics.  As they say, that’s way too much information and detail, particularly at a dinner table where food is being served.  Nothing can zap an appetite faster than to have a dinner guest regaling at length the graphic details of a bad food experience.

My thanks again to Tina Lesyk for taking the time to chat with me about proper guest etiquette and to share her extensive knowledge on the topic.  We certainly haven’t covered every aspect of dining etiquette but, hopefully, we have covered the main points.  Happy dining!

PEI Burger Love 2013

"The Canadian Legend" Burger from the Lucy Maud Dining Room at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI
“The Canadian Legend” Burger from the Lucy Maud Dining Room at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

For the third consecutive year, April has represented Burger Love on Prince Edward Island.  Yes, that’s right, love of beef burgers!  This year, 31 restaurants across the Island paid a $600 entry fee to cover advertising and promotion costs to participate in the month-long celebration of Island beef.  PEI Burger Love has certainly created a hype and brought patrons to a number of Island restaurants to sample the array of gourmet beef burgers that chefs have created specially for the event.  Make no mistake about it, these are not your average hamburgers.  These are gourmet burgers that require a hefty appetite to do them justice.

Partnerships Forged to Support Initiative

PEI Burger Love, created by Fresh Media, is carried out in partnership with Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers, PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry, PEI Flavours, PEI Potato Board, and the PEI Restaurant Association.  The formation of this collaborative group has brought heightened awareness to PEI’s beef industry.

PEI Burger Love Grows in Popularity

In its inaugural year in 2011, a total of 14 Island restaurants participated with 5500 burgers being served in the month of April.  Last year, 22 restaurants signed on and, collectively, sold over 16,000 burgers in just one month.  I suspect, by the time, the event ends on April 30th, the number of beef burgers consumed on PEI in the month of April, 2013, will have surpassed 2012 figures.

For the month of April, one would be hard-pressed to go anywhere on the Island without hearing some talk about PEI Burger Love.  In workplaces, on the street, and just about anywhere, one could hear Islanders enthusiastically talking about and describing the burgers they had already tried and the ones still on their list.  Social media has been used extensively in this awareness campaign and burgers have suddenly become the hottest and most photographed subjects around!  Servers would bring burgers to the tables and, all of a sudden, cameras and cell phones appeared and started clicking!  Photographs of burgers have been everywhere, including on twitter and on Facebook.  This year, for the first time, PEI Burger Love engaged nine individuals, one of whom was me, to use blogging as a platform to further advertise the Burger Love campaign.

Overall, I believe Islanders have embraced this campaign and have had a lot of fun with it.   It has not been uncommon throughout the month to see groups of as many as 20 heading to the local restaurants at any day at noon to try out the burgers.  Even local businesses got in on the action.  Staff of Century 21 Colonial Realty in Charlottetown, for example, select one restaurant a week, call ahead with their burger order, and then their entire team of real estate agents show up en masse with a video camera in tow.  Joel Ives says they have been doing this since Burger Love began and find it’s a fun activity for their team while supporting local at the same time.  Says Joel, “Our business is about being local – local homes, local businesses, and being in the community.  We do our best to support local initiatives.  When PEI Burger Love came out, we thought we could have some fun with it by going as a group to eat lunch together, have some laughs, and make some fun videos.  Since all of our agents are busy doing their own thing, it is great that we can book off one lunch a week during the [Burger Love] campaign to get together.”  You can check out the Century 21 fun videos here to see how one local business has embraced PEI Burger Love.

Diners are engaged in Burger Love fever too as they head to local dining establishments to order up the creative burgers.  They can rate the burgers they eat by voting online for their favorite and win great prizes in the process as well as help crown the most popular burger in the 2013 Burger Love campaign.

Timing is Everything

April is traditionally a slower month for local restaurants because the tourist season hasn’t yet started but, this year, participating restaurants are hopping busy as burger lovers converge on their establishments to sample the many burger options.  Linda Dickie, Food and Beverage Director at Mavor’s Restaurant in the Confederation Centre of the Arts, says they chose to participate in PEI Burger Love because they like to support local whenever possible and it brings awareness to the restaurant.  According to Linda, Mavors sold 1700 burgers in the first couple of weeks of the campaign with the highest single day servings of 210 burgers!

Chef James Oja, who owns and operates The Big Orange Lunchbox restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, is a first-time participant in PEI Burger Love.  He says the annual PEI Burger Love campaign “generates a busy month giving restaurants that participate a little warm-up for summer”.   Chef Oja claims Island beef is the best beef in Atlantic Canada and that his “supplier, Bluefield Natural Products, provides superior beef that is richer in iron, antioxidants, flavour, and texture”.

Just How Many Burgers Can You Eat?

As I mentioned earlier, I was one of nine guest bloggers for PEI Burger Love this year and my assignment was to sample four of the burgers and blog about them.  Now, I thought four burgers was a lot to consume in a little over a week.  However, Connor Jay set himself the challenge to eat all 31 burgers….and he did… in just 14 days!  Averaging two a day plus three on two different days, he proudly says there was one day that he ate two of these huge burgers within two hours!  Asked why he decided to set out to eat all 31 burgers, Connor says he thought “it would be something fun to do and would be a great way to experience the Island“.  He says he “loves the PEI Burger Love campaign and thought eating all 31 [burgers] would be a great opportunity to get other friends involved in it and that it would inspire them to go grab a burg“.  I am also aware of a workplace where employees would order a couple of burgers from each of 3-4 restaurants for lunch each Friday in April, bring them back to their workplace, and cut them into quarters so that co-workers could have the opportunity to sample as many of the burgers as possible.

What’s in a Gourmet PEI Burger Love Burger?

Other than the requirement to use 100% Island beef in the burgers, chefs had unfettered licence to dress the burgers with whatever toppings they wanted and to prepare and present them as creatively as they wished.  Suffice it to say that Island chefs rose to the challenge and created some mighty fine culinary creations with unique flavour combinations.

The meat in the burgers generally ranged in size from 6 oz to 9 oz and was prepared in different ways – some burgers were charred over an open flame while others were grilled or sautéed. Toppings ranged from candied bacon (yes, oh là là!) to nachos and salsa, coleslaw, bacon jam, Jalapeno peppers, various renditions of aioli, Portobello mushrooms, guacamole, and onions encased in wontons or presented as beer-battered onion rings, and just about anything else you could imagine going into these tall burgers.  Then, there were the many variations of buns encasing all this goodness.  One burger even had two grilled cheese sandwiches holding it in place instead of a traditional bun!  And, of course, each restaurant creatively named their burger.  Here are photographs of the four burgers I was assigned to sample as part of my blog assignment:

From the Gahan House in Charlottetown, PEI, comes the “Not’cha Burger” that features Tortilla chips, salsa, spicy cheese dip, and Jalapeno mayo to accessorize the beef burger.

"Not'cha Burger", Gahan House, Charlottetown, PEI
“Not’cha Burger”, Gahan House, Charlottetown, PEI

The “Canadian Legend Burger” was created by the Lucy Maud Dining Room, a teaching restaurant in the Culinary Institute of Canada.  It features a gouda-stuffed burger accessorized with smoked tomato aioli, confit cherry tomato, bacon jam, candied bacon, and the best onion rings I have ever tasted.

The "Canadian Legend Burger" at the Lucy Maud Dining Room of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI
The “Canadian Legend Burger” at the Lucy Maud Dining Room of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

The Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn in Summerside, PEI, presented the “Big Kuhuna Burger” that featured smoked bacon, banana peppers, a grilled pineapple ring, and guacamole.

The "Big Kahuna Burger" from the Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn, Summerside, PEI
The “Big Kahuna Burger” from the Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn, Summerside, PEI

The Old Triangle in downtown Charlottetown created the “Mr. Miyagi Burger” that included Hoisin BBQ sauce, Asian slaw, and caramelized onion wontons.

The "Mr. Miyagi Burger" from The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, PEI
The “Mr. Miyagi Burger” from The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, PEI

As you can see, these are huge, well accessorized burgers!  If I had one suggestion for organizers for future PEI Burger Love campaigns it would be to consider also offering smaller versions (perhaps even slider size) for those who don’t have large appetites but yet who want to try out the burgers.

The gourmet burgers, on average, are in the $12-$14 range (burger only).

PEI Burger Love Surpasses Expectations

The Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers Association reports being pleased with the  campaign.  The Association gets great exposure for its industry and, as representative Rinnie Bradley says, they “are a small industry compared to dairy or potatoes so it has been difficult to get our message out to the general public that we are important to the Island’s economy.  From truckers, to feed mills, vets, farm machine shops, to processing facilities and meat shops, the beef industry contributes significantly to our economy directly and indirectly.”  Bradley says “PEI Burger Love 2013 has surpassed our expectations to date.  We are very pleased that so many restaurants have signed on and that several new participants decided to include Island beef on their menus.  We hope Islanders and visitors alike will get out and enjoy the amazing burgers, and seek out Island beef for their meals at home.”

So, Islanders, only 6 days left to get out and try some of these gourmet burgers before PEI Burger Love 2013 ends.  This is a great way to show support for the local beef industry as well as the many Island restaurants which have chosen to participate in this campaign to promote Island beef.  There is a burger out there for everyone’s taste!

POSTCRIPT (May 8, 2013):

The statistics are in for the 2013 Burger Love Campaign.  A total of 46,204 beef burgers were sold in 31 participating restaurants during the month-long event in April.  This translates into 21,917 pounds of beef consumed during this time period.  Sales for the burgers during the month of April are estimated at $580,008.62.  Voters selected “The Smokin’ Fox” from Phinley’s Diner in Stratford, just across the bridge from Charlottetown, PEI, as their “Most Loved Burger 2013″.

Not bad, PEI, not bad at all!

“Savour Victoria” – A Fitting Signature Event for PEI’s Fall Flavours Culinary Festival 2012

While the heavens opened and poured rain on Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, on Saturday, September 29th, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm that was evident at “Savour Victoria” or the great local food that diners enjoyed throughout the evening.  As Richard LaGrange of the Orient Hotel says, “Victoria hospitality really can make up for a little rain” (well, okay, it really was a LOT of rain!).

The Victoria Wharf on a Rainy and Windy September 29, 2012

This was the last signature event of “Fall Flavours”, PEI’s annual Culinary Festival.  The small seaside village of Victoria on the Island’s south shore proved to be an ideal venue for the event.  Pam Beck, Tourism Development Manager for Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, says Victoria was chosen because of its special qualities and quaintness.  In the summer, Victoria swells with tourists who leisurely stroll around the tiny village of less than 200 year-round inhabitants, visiting local shops and restaurants and watching the lobster fishing boats unloading their day’s catch.  Pam says organizers wanted to make the event “a celebration of Victoria, our Island, and all its beauty and bounty”.  I’d say mission accomplished on that front!

The village is small and neatly laid out in a square shape.  Everything is within easy walking distance and that is a good thing given the inclement weather and the fact that there were five venues for diners to visit during the evening – four for appetizers and drinks and one for dinner.  Victoria does not have any really large restaurants and the ones it does have only operate seasonally.  Some of the Fall Flavours events elsewhere on the Island have used big tents on location but organizers of “Savour Victoria” devised a plan that would use and promote establishments that already exist so that, when people come back to Victoria in the future, the venues will still be there for them to return to.

“Savour Victoria” was produced by Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, a new (2011) organization dedicated to promoting tourism development in the central part of the Island.  Because “Savour Victoria” was classed as a signature event, it meant a celebrity chef was part of the activities.  Bob Blumer, cookbook author (several times over) and creator and host of his own TV shows on the Food Network “Glutton for Punishment”, “Surreal Gourmet”, and “World’s Weirdest Restaurants”, spent the weekend in Victoria overseeing and participating in the Savour Victoria event.  Bob was actively engaged in the preparations for the dinner which featured as much locally produced food as possible and was presented in unique and creative ways that Bob is known for.

Here is how the evening worked.  Everyone first checked in at the Victoria Playhouse where they picked up a gift bag that contained an engraved “Savour Victoria” souvenir wine glass and a map of the Village.  From there, people headed out, donned in raincoats and carrying umbrellas, to the different venues that were serving appetizers and pre-dinner drinks.

“Savour Victoria” in Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI – 29 September 2012

Four venues opened for the “Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings” portion of the evening which began at 6:00pm.  These included Coach House Antiques, By-The-Sea Kayaking, Red Sand Jewelry, and Island Chocolates. 

Coach House Antiques, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI – Appetizers: Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese

 

By-The-Sea Kayaking, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizers – Raspberry Point Oysters served with Matos Winery’s “Bagaço”, Portuguese Moonshine.

 

Red Sand Jewelry, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizer – Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions and Cream Cheese on Baguette

 

Island Chocolates, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI. Appetizer – Roasted Sweet Peppers on Chocolate Crostini with Goat Cheese and a Dusting of Cocoa

Four local eating establishments then opened to serve a sit-down dinner at 7:30pm.  These were the Victoria Village Inn, Landmark Café, Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery, and the Orient Hotel.  When diners purchased their ticket, they selected which of the four venues they wished to go to for the sit-down dinner.

Victoria Village Inn, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Landmark Cafe, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Lobster Barn Pub and Eatery, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

Orient Hotel, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

Each of the restaurants served exactly the same meal.  Local chefs from the restaurants prepared the meal and were assisted by chef support from the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI.  The featured wines of the evening were all local and came from nearby Matos Winery in St. Catherine’s, PEI.   Just take a look at this great menu that was collaboratively chosen by the local chefs and Bob Blumer:

Wandering Appetizers with Wine & Beer Tastings

Coach House Antiques:
Smoked Ham from Island Taylored Meats & COWS Creamery Cheese.
PEI Brewing Company Beer Tastings.

By-the-sea Kayaking:
Raspberry Point Oysters.
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Red Sand Jewelry:
Cajun-seared Atlantic Scallops, Carmelized Onions & Cream Cheese on Baguette
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Island Chocolates:
Roasted sweet peppers on chocolate crostini with goat cheese and a dusting of cocoa .
Matos Vineyards Wine Tastings.

Seated Dining Menu

Course 1:  Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon
Course 2 – Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder with sweet corn and garlic from nearby fields, local cream, and Island Taylored Meats double-smoked bacon.  Fresh-baked bread.

Matos Vineyards wine pairing.

Course 3 – Bob Blumer’s Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery superior organic potatoes, seasoned with fresh local herbs and served with a medley of greens from Just a Little Farm on the Appin Rd, and dressed with balsamic and black truffle oil vinaigrette.
Matos Vineyard wine pairing.

Course 4 – Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an almond lace cookie.
Matos Vineyard wine pairing.

After sampling the appetizers, it was off to the venue of choice for the sit-down dinner.  I dined at the Orient Hotel.  The Hotel does not operate a restaurant but does open a tea room in the summer months.  In fact, the Orient Hotel had closed its tearoom doors for the season and re-opened especially for this event.  Just look how elegantly this cozy dining room was dressed!  

Orient Hotel Dining Room, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 1: Kim Dormaar’s Medallion Smoked Salmon

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 2: Bob Blumer’s Fire-roasted Corn Chowder

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 3: Bob Blumer’s Savory Lobster-Filled Cupcake topped with creamy, buttery Superior Organic Potatoes

 

“Savour Victoria” Course 4: Panna cotta made with white and dark chocolate from Island Chocolates, served with an Almond Lace Cookie

Throughout the evening, Bob circulated amongst the venues, chatting with patrons, and signing copies of his cookbook.  He says he hasn’t been on the Island since a memorable bike trip in his teens so he jumped at the opportunity to come back.  Says Bob, “During my too-short stay, I fell in love with Victoria-by-the-Sea, and with all of the incredible/eccentric/gregarious people who live there.  Dinner was a real community effort (with some imported talent from Charlottetown) – and the community really rocked it.”  Asked what the most memorable thing is that he will take away from his Island experience, Bob tells me, “the camaraderie, the lobster and, of course, the incredible beauty of the land.”  Great endorsement, Bob!

Celebrity Chef Bob Blumer at “Savour Victoria”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI (Love the inscription he wrote on the cookbook!)

Pam Beck says organizers aimed for a reasonably-priced event ($85/pp) for sampling four appetizers, drinks, a four-course sit-down dinner, and wine.  The event was sold out – all 150 tickets — and Pam says it was about 50/50 split between Islanders and tourists. 

This was a very enjoyable evening and it really makes me appreciate the wonderful foods we produce right here on PEI.  I asked Richard LaGrange what, from the perspective of a host restaurant, he thought made the event so successful – it was, after all, a huge undertaking to carry out this kind of event using eight small venues, none of which have large kitchens.  Richard says, in his view, the event’s success was due to the team effort that went into it, the entire community coming together, and the attitude and professionalism shown by members of the Culinary Institute of Canada.  Richard says the most memorable aspect of the “Savour Victoria” experience for him was watching the chefs and the other food staff working together so seamlessly and guiding the rest toward a common goal.

I think this event may be a catalyst for Victoria to consider hosting similar events in the future.  They proved they can do it!  Richard LaGrange sums it up best when he says:  I would hope that the Islanders who attended and who hadn’t been to our village for a while will have been reminded of all the reasons people flock to Victoria, and that those who were visiting us for the first time had their appetites whetted and will be back for seconds.”  Hmmmm, “seconds” are good – yes, I’ll have another one of those yummy, savory lobster cupcakes, please!

 

Hup, One, Two, Three, Four — It’s Off to Culinary Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada

On my last day of summer vacation, I went to boot camp – culinary boot camp, that is —  at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.  Sixteen people formed the group for the full day “Island Flavours” boot camp.  We were a mixed group that came from PEI, Halifax, NS, Montreal, QC, and Waterloo, ON.  It was a packed day of activity (and work!) but it was fun!

Now in their 4th year of operation, the boot camps (which started as a pilot project), are offered from May to October.  Some are one-half day events while others are full day camps.  A variety of bootcamps are offered that include half-day events such as Healthy Eating 101 and Chocolate and Wine.  Full day boot camps include Lobster 101, Local Flavours, Seafood 101, Thrills on the Grill, and Seasonal Desserts.  Half day camps start at $129 + GST/per person and full days range from $199 to $269 + GST/per person.

Asked why the Culinary Institute, a teaching school for training professional chefs, started the seasonal culinary boot camps, Chef Instructor Jeff McCourt who teaches most of the camps, says the initiative began with “the onset of culinary tourism and, being a school already, they [the Culinary Institute) are fulfilling a short-term education component.”  Culinary tourism is one of the latest vacation trends.  Whether it is simply choosing interesting, unique, and memorable regional dining options where you are vacationing, attending foodie events (like the PEI Shellfish Festival happening in Charlottetown this weekend, for example) or food conferences, or participating in culinary boot camps at acclaimed cooking schools like the Culinary Institute of Canada, including food-related activities on holidays is a great way to sample local cuisine, try new food products, meet people who share culinary interests, and/or learn new cooking methods and techniques.

Lindsay Arsenault, Boot Camp Coordinator, says one of their most popular culinary boot camps is the Kids Camp, a 4-day summer camp where youth from ages 7-17 are taught basic life skills about food – where food comes from and how to prepare basic meals and they even move on to more advanced food preparation.  In this camp, the youth also get to spend a day on a farm, plant a row of potatoes, pick seasonal berries, and then return to the kitchen to learn how to make jam. The camp concludes with the youth preparing a buffet for their parents.  Since its inception, the Kids Camp has become so popular that it is not uncommon for the Institute to have waiting lists for these camps.  Says 10-year old Michael MacEwen, of Tea Hill, PEI, who is a “seasoned three-year veteran” of the Kids Camp, “I go to the camp every year because it's fun, you learn how to cook "really good food" from "real" chefs, you get a chef's outfit, and they are happy to adjust the recipes for me to be gluten-free. I go back every year because there is always something new to learn.”

Lindsay tells me the boot camps are gaining a positive reputation as shore excursions for cruise passengers visiting the port of Charlottetown.   Currently, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas cruise lines have started offering the Boot Camps as shore excursions for passengers.  The Culinary Institute has customized their boot camps to accommodate cruise ship visits and time lines.  This is a wonderful opportunity for those passengers to taste authentic Island food, experience the Culinary Institute and cooking in a professional atmosphere, and go home with great Island recipes as a souvenir of their PEI port visit.  As someone who is a frequent cruiser and a foodie, I know this is one shore excursion that would match my tastes!  I also learned, from Lindsay, that some organizations have taken their employees to the Culinary Institute and used the boot camps as team building events.  Now, that’s an innovative (and fun) way to bring work teams together!

Attending culinary boot camp is also an opportunity to explore future career options.  At the boot camp I attended, a dad from Montreal brought his Grade 11 daughter to the Island specifically to attend a couple of boot camps as she is planning a career as a chef.  This opportunity allowed her to experience a large industrial-sized teaching kitchen, work alongside a professional chef, and to decide if this is the cooking school she might attend full time when she finishes high school.  The day before this boot camp, Alison and her dad, Stephen, spent a day with the chef.  This is essentially a customized day of personalized attention where the participant(s) work with the chef on a particular subject of their choosing – in Alison and Stephen’s case, they chose to focus on preparing seafood.  Alison’s comments after her culinary experience were very positive and there was no question that she thoroughly enjoyed it.

The boot camps can accommodate a maximum of 16 participants and Lindsay tells me that, on average, their boot camps are comprised of 50/50 Islanders and tourists.  On the day I attended, we had a number of family groups participating – Alison and her Dad, Stephen, from Montreal, the six-member Simmons/Tummon family from Waterloo, ON, who were back for their second boot camp in as many years, and a mom (Debbie) and her son (Anthony) from Charlottetown.  Debbie told me this boot camp was her Christmas gift to her son and she decided to join him for the day in what was her sixth boot camp in three years.  Asked why she had enrolled in six boot camps, Debbie said, “it allows me to try different things.  I probably wouldn’t have made the food we made in the camp if I found them in a recipe book but, after participating in the culinary boot camps, I am more inclined to be more venturesome in cooking.”  The Simmons/Tummon family – mom, dad, two sons and two daughters aged 15-22, told me their attendance was a Christmas gift from an Island relative (neat idea).  Dad, Shawn, told me they enjoy the camps – “the girls like to cook and the boys like doing different things”.  I thought it was fabulous to see these families spending quality time together, enjoying themselves, and learning different cooking techniques.  Two other women drove from Halifax, NS, specifically to take this boot camp as an extended weekend get-away.

So, now I’m going to share with you my impressions after attending the full day offering of “Local Flavours”, a new boot camp for 2012.  For those of you regularly following my blog, you’ll figure my choice of “Local Flavours” was an obvious one given my blog focuses primarily on Island food products.

The focus of the “Island Flavors” boot camp is on cooking with ingredients that come from the land as well as the waters around PEI.  After dividing the 16 participants into four groups and assigning each group their recipes, the day started out with participants boarding a small tour bus, along with Chef Instructor Jeff McCourt, to go on a shopping expedition for ingredients for the recipes to be made later in the day.

The Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

Chef McCourt handed each group $15 to buy fresh produce to enhance the recipes (note the main ingredients – fish, meat, cream, butter, etc., were all provided by the Culinary Institute and included in the boot camp fee).   Heading along historic Water Street and passing over the Hillsborough Bridge to Stratford, our first stop took us to Balderston’s Farm Market.

Balderston’s Farm Market, Stratford, PEI

Participants deliberated over what fresh produce to buy and, once selections were made, everyone was back on the bus and on the way back across the Bridge to the Riverview Country Market which sells both fresh produce and meats.  More purchases were made.

Riverview Country Market, Charlottetown, PEI

The last stop was at the Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and All Things Olive shop on lower Queen Street where everyone enjoyed tasting the many different kinds of imported quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  Yes, more purchases!

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar and All Things Olive, Charlottetown, PEI

Back at the Culinary Institute, participants were outfitted in their official Culinary Boot Camp chef jackets and hats and then it was downstairs to the large kitchen facility.  Each group assembled and started making their assigned recipes.

Getting Outfitted with Chef Jackets

Participating in this kind of culinary activity gives participants the opportunity to see and work inside a huge, industrial-sized kitchen.  And, I think some of my Paderno stock pots and pans are huge – un-huh – the Culinary Institute has pots so large that they are on floor stands – they make my pots look like little measuring cups!  There was one frying pan that I declare was at least three times the size of my largest one!  I wondered if I’d need a hydraulic lift to move it!

The Teaching Kitchen at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

The day was long but passed by very quickly because it was so busy.  Each group was intent on their work.  This is very much a hands-on culinary event.  Don’t expect to sit back, relax, and be entertained by watching someone demonstrate how something is done.  Ah, no.  You work in these boot camps!  It’s learning by doing.  That said, there were times throughout the day that Chef McCourt did gather all participants around for specific demonstrations – for example, he showed how to butcher a 30-pound halibut and how filleting is done and steaks cut.  Both Chef McCourt and his assistant, Colleen Neilly, were very accommodating and answered any questions participants had and were very willing to show participants how to do things.

Chef Jeff McCourt Demonstrates How to Butcher a Halibut and Cut it into Steaks and Fillets

The basic recipes were provided but participants had the creative flexibility as to how they wanted to “dress them up”.  For example, our group opted to prepare the halibut with a Cajun blackened spice rub and plate it over grilled yellow tomatoes and red peppers (bought at Balderston’s earlier in the morning), served alongside herb-roasted beets and chopped Chorizo sausage (purchased at Riverview Country Market).  The recipes our group made were Potato and Lobster Cakes, Broiled Oysters (yes, I had my first oyster – but not raw!), Pan-fried Halibut, and Vienna Truffle Tortes (that we dressed with blueberries from Balderston’s).

Potato and Lobster Cakes – One of the Recipes Made During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

I found it particularly interesting to visit the other groups around the kitchen and to watch how they chose to prepare their assigned dishes.  At the end of the day, we had to plate and present our dishes and spread them out altogether in buffet style.  It was simply astonishing and amazing to see the superb quality of the finished products that looked (and tasted) so professionally prepared.

Vienna Truffle Tortes with Fresh PEI Wild Blueberries
Broiled Oysters with Mignonette – One of the Recipes Participants Make During the “Local Flavours” Boot Camp at The Culinary Institute of Canada

Then, it was time to sample the fruits of our labour.  After filling our plates, it was upstairs to the Lucy Maud Dining Room to enjoy our meal in style.  The Lucy Maud Dining Room is the Culinary Institute’s teaching restaurant and it has one of the most commanding water views as it is situated just at the entrance to the Charlottetown Harbour.

This was simply a fabulous day and experience.  For the foodie and at-home chef, this is a rare opportunity to work alongside a professional chef in a large, fully-equipped kitchen (yes, their walk-in refrigerators are as large as my walk-in clothes closet!) and learn food preparation techniques from the professionals.  At the end of the boot camp, participants walk away with a monogrammed boot camp chef’s jacket to keep, a booklet of recipes that were prepared during the day, great memories of a busy yet fun day, and inspiration and motivation to try new ways of preparing ordinary local foods.

A Sampling of Dishes Made During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

So, whether it’s a treat for yourself, a gift for those hard-to-buy-for folks who happen to be foodies (I’m thinking what a great wedding present one of these camps would be for newlyweds), an innovative team-building activity for your work group, or an activity to do with a group of friends or family members, a one-half or full day at the Culinary Institute’s boot camps is a great food activity and a sure way to have a memorable time.  Oh, and the extraordinary buffet meal as the finale is pretty darn good, too!

Wonderful Dishes Made with Fresh PEI Products During “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

Still can’t get over the fact that we accomplished all this in one day!

The Finale Buffet at the end of the day at the “Local Flavours” Culinary Boot Camp

What a feast!

 

“Local Flavours” Finale Buffet – Culinary Boot Camp

 

And, it all tasted so incredibly good!

“The Fruits of the Labour” – Buffet at the conclusion of the “Local Flavours” Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of Canada

For more information about the Culinary Institute of Canada’s boot camps, visit their website at https://www.hollandcollege.com/bootcamps/bootcamps/culinary/full-day-camps.

To whet your appetite, below is a sample of the kind of recipes participants experience cooking in one of these boot camps – this one from the “Local Flavours” boot camp.  Shared here, with the kind permission of the Culinary Institute of Canada’s Boot Camps, is the recipe for Chef Jeff’s Seafood Chowder.  This is a dandy chowder that has won awards at the PEI Shellfish Festival (and Lindsay tells me, more than once it has won!).  This makes a very large pot of chowder but the recipe is easily halved or quartered as I did when I made it at home.  The wonderful thing about seafood chowder is that it can be served as an appetizer in a smaller portion or, with a larger serving, as a main meal because most chowders are quite filling – and this one certainly is!  The other great thing about seafood chowder is that, so long as you make up your quantity, you can use any selection of seafood you like and leave out any you do not care for.  When I made the recipe at home, I didn’t have any Vermouth so I substituted Chardonnay which worked out fine.  The other thing I would caution is to start “gently” with the Tabasco Sauce using only a few drops of it, then taste it and add more (if necessary) to your liking as, using too much of this hot sauce can quickly spoil a chowder beyond repair.

Jeff’s PEI Seafood Chowder

Jeff's PEI Seafood Chowder

By Barbara99 Published: September 16, 2012

  • Yield: 12 Servings
  • Prep: 30-45 mins
  • Cook: 30-45 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A smooth, creamy,and tasty seafood chowder filled with a variety of seafood.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Making the Seafood ChowderIn a hot pot, add the butter and onions. Sweat mixture until translucent. Add garlic and continue to saute until golden brown.
  2. Add the potato, Vermouth, milk, and cream. Cook over medium heat, careful not to scorch the bottom, for approximately 20 minutes until the potato is cooked.
  3. Puree the chowder base in a blender and season with salt and pepper. Return mixture to pot.
  4. Succulent Lobster and PEI Mussels Make For a Tasty Seafood ChowderUse desired seafood and retain all juice from its cooking process. Add to the chowder base.
  5. Jeff's PEI Seafood ChowderAdd the diced, cooked potato for texture and season again. Serve and garnish with chopped chives.

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Let’s Set the Table!

In my view, there are three elements to a wonderful meal:  Great food, a properly well-set table, and good conversation.  In this post, my focus will be on the well-set table.  For pointers on how to properly set a table, I went to the experts at The Culinary Institute of Canada, part of Prince Edward Island’s Holland College, in Charlottetown.  There I was met by Tina Lesyk, Banquet and Catering Coordinator, in the Lucy Maud Dining Room, the Institute’s teaching restaurant.  What follows is the substance of our conversation as we covered the gamut of topics that need to be considered in setting the proper table suitable to any occasion the home host/hostess is likely to encounter.

 Types of Table Place Settings

Tina tells me there are three principal types of place settings:  Formal, Informal, and Buffet.  Let’s look at each one individually.

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